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eBook by Nina M. Osier
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: She thought her three sons were dead, killed in battle under her command. But thanks to a planet called Mistworld, retired Fleet Admiral Catherine Romanova has them back--years after she forged an unlikely peace with the mysterious beings who caused their deaths. Now the legendary Matushka and her part-Morthan husband, forced into exile by the brutal Terran occupation of her native Narsai, must unlock Mistworld's secrets if they're to have any hope of seeing home again. Or the thirteen-year-old daughter they've been tricked into leaving behind, by relatives who believe that Catherine's heir holds the key to Narsai's freedom.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, Published: 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2006
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8 Reader Ratings:
"The Commonwealth won't let any of its member worlds go without a fight, Mum. But I'm telling you what you know already, aren't I?" Ewan Fralick gave Catherine Romanova a smile that the former fleet admiral recognized, although during his mortal lifetime her firstborn hadn't worn the face that formed it. Whenever Ewan expressed his feelings with the physical form he now inhabited, his mannerisms overrode those of the body's actual owner--one Ishi Sanibello, from the Human colony on Mistworld.
Katy Romanova had thought it an eerie business despite the blinding happiness it afforded, having her three boys who'd perished in a single long ago battle restored when the "Misties" brought their oddly assorted fleet to Narsai. She still found it strange, yet poignantly joyful, at moments like this one ... Romanova realized that Ewan/Ishi wanted an answer. He wasn't asking the question rhetorically, after all.
"I certainly never expected the Diet to be that sensible!" she said, and sighed. "But lately I've dared to hope they may let us alone, after all."
Afternoon sunlight bathed the garden of Romanova's small home in Narsai's capital city of MinTar, where mother and son sat on the terrace together and enjoyed a rare moment of peace and privacy. Peace had become especially scarce here during the past six weeks, since Dan Archer (who was Ewan's best friend from his Star Service days, and Katy's adopted fourth son as well) and his wife, the fugitive gen and Star Service deserter called Rachel Kane, brought their three newborn babies home from MinTar Medical. With Katy, her second husband, her adolescent daughter, and the Archer/Kane family all crammed into it, the house that had so often stood empty for years at a stretch was filled now to its capacity--and beyond.
"Not likely, Mum." Ewan shook Ishi Sanibello's head. Not for the first time, his mother wondered if the noncorporeal Mistworld natives had deliberately paired the eldest Fralick son's consciousness--still self-aware in this dimension almost fourteen years after his body's death, thanks to their planet's unique environment--with a host of his own gender and approximate age, as of the last time he walked about wearing flesh. "They've got to be hurting, after six months without the colonies shipping foodstuffs to Terran markets. The replacement comm relay should have arrived from New Orient a long time ago, shouldn't it?"
Once again, the youngster was right. Romanova sighed, and nodded. "I never thought I'd see the time when Narsai would spend six months cut off from talking to the rest of the Commonwealth," she said, and then laughed at herself. "Just listen to me, still calling Human-inhabited space 'the Commonwealth'! But blessed if I can think what else to call it, love."
"Neither can I, actually." Her son chuckled. "'Cut off from the rest of the galaxy' would sound pretty pretentious! Although we haven't been completely. Cut off, that is. I talked to a captain just in from Kesra yesterday. Their link's working fine, and Terra's not talking to them, either."
"Or to Mortha, or either of the worlds in the Sestus system." Katy hadn't missed the catch in Ewan/Ishi's voice when he said the name of his birth-world, where Human residents were no longer allowed--making Ewan, Marcus, and Bryce (her sons by her first husband, George Fralick) exiles.
Which didn't matter a bit, of course, now that they belonged to Mistworld. Now that they'd become "Misties" themselves (a whimsical nickname bestowed by Katy's diminutive-loving fellow Narsatians), they might wear borrowed flesh in order to visit other worlds; but afterward they would always return to a home that wasn't Kesra.
Again Ewan nodded. "I wonder what they're up to?" he asked, and this time the question really was rhetorical. It had to be, because not even the former Fleet Admiral Romanova--who'd worked directly for the Defense Minister, and commanded the entire Star Service--could answer it.
"Linc, they are hopeless." Bryce Fralick, utilizing the vocal cords of Mistworld colonist Chad Thorne, leaned hard on the sentence's final word. He indicated Narsai's Commissioner of Aquaculture, whose secondary title of Harbormaster gave the man law enforcement powers. Which therefore meant that "Harbie," along with Chief Constable Mara Ling, must lead this formerly pacifist world's recently formed militia--to the despair of the former military officers who had the job of coaching them in their new responsibilities.
Captain Lincoln Casey, onetime commander of the Star Service Academy, rolled his golden Morthan hybrid eyes in agreement with his stepson. But he schooled his voice to say firmly, "They'll get it eventually, Bryce. They've got to, for their people's sake. And if there's one thing I've learned since I started living here full time with your mother, it's that Narsatians are loyal to their world and to each other! So the least we can do," he glanced at Marcus Fralick (as embodied by Mistworld colonist Dram Andersen) to make sure both younger men were hearing and understanding him, "is stay with them for as long as they're willing to keep trying."
They ought to be how old by now? In their thirties, since the Fralick twins were green ensigns when the ship aboard which they'd been serving together vanished in a fireball over Mistworld. Along with Ewan, a very junior captain who'd turned off his comm--the better not to hear when the battle group's commodore, his mother (the very senior Captain Catherine Romanova) ordered him not to take his own small ship down into the planet's upper atmosphere, to aid the doomed one carrying his brothers.
They no longer looked a bit alike, these two who'd been born physically identical, because their hosts weren't related. And because their hosts were men barely on the high side of twenty, they looked as if they hadn't aged during the years their mother (and their mother's husband, who'd been her executive officer at the time of their deaths) thought them gone forever.
The impression that time hadn't passed for the three younger men, Lincoln Casey knew now, was false. Whether or not the Fralick brothers had "grown up" in the sense they would have if they'd continued living in their own bodies for the past fourteen or so years, they had definitely gained both experience and maturity from their lives as adopted members of the noncorporeal species inhabiting Mistworld's upper atmosphere. The species that started fighting back, by the only method they could use, when combat between the Star Service battle group under Catherine Romanova and invaders attempting to dislodge Commonwealth homesteaders on the planet's surface inadvertently began killing them--the native beings whose existence neither side in that conflict suspected.
Casey still found it incredible that the Mistworld folk should--even as they defended themselves--have attempted to salvage the essence of each individual being whose body they destroyed. Their efforts hadn't worked for everyone on board the incinerated starships, of course. But Casey was vastly grateful that it had worked for all three of his wife's sons, and not just because he loved her. He'd spent most of his military career nurturing young officers--first as Romanova's XO, and later (after spending the intervening years as his by then wife's adjutant, when she'd made flag rank but hadn't yet risen to Fleet Admiral) commanding the Academy. So he'd grieved both personally and professionally for the three promising youngsters called Ewan, Marcus, and Bryce Fralick, and having them back--even in these altered forms--delighted him in ways that had nothing at all to do with his love for their mother.
For Katy who was reaching out to him now, through the telepathic bond they shared (as did any mated pair, when one partner was of Morthan or part-Morthan ancestry). Letting him know that Narsai's Harbormaster and Chief Constable had just run out of time for drilling their units in the accurate use of personal firearms, and for the other defensive preparations that were planned or already underway.
Peaceful Narsai, where possessing weapons had been against the law for so long that neither Harbie nor Mara had ever needed them to enforce the planet's laws, would soon be either a conquered planet under enemy occupation or a world at war. Casey looked out over the floor of the vast indoor arena that in better times had served as MinTar's main recreational center--a floor that was still marked off for the playing of Narsai's favorite team sport, a vague descendant of the ancient North American one called "basketball"--and shook his head before he bent to the broadcast booth's commlink. From here he could address everyone on the floor, half a dozen meters below this enclosure that was tucked between banks of spectator seats on the narrow end of the arena's trapezoid. Keeping the three formally trained and off-world born coaches out of sight, to avoid undermining Harbie's and Mara's authority with their militia recruits.
I got used to giving people bad news back when we were still junior officers, he told his wife via their own most private of commlinks, as he gathered breath and steeled his nerves to say what must be said. But I'm damned if I've got any idea how to tell people like yours--people like ours, Katy!--what we both know they'll almost certainly be facing, by this time tomorrow. * * * *
Ewan Fralick and Ishi Sanibello both watched Ewan's mother as Catherine Romanova sat at one of her home's two comm terminals and stared, with her face turned away from its screen, toward the garden. Her firstborn son had no idea, until he came to know her as one adult to another during the last six months, how much she loved that garden ... and this house ... and her home-world itself, for that matter.
She must have found it hard to leave, and live on Kesra all those years with your father, Sanibello observed to Fralick, in one of the thousands of silent thoughts they'd exchanged since (as a Mistworld-manned Rebel ship's commander) he'd found himself paired with a disembodied Human "battle survivor" instead of being chosen to host one of the planet's natives. Initially Sanibello felt disappointed that he must lend his flesh to Fralick, when he'd hoped for the honor of embodying a true Mistworlder. But now, after months of having Ewan so close to him that each felt like part of the other, Ishi Sanibello sometimes wondered what it would be like one day when the ship now orbiting Narsai took them back to Mistworld. When Fralick, no longer needing physical form, would slip free and once again join the planet's natives in its atmosphere's upper reaches--leaving Sanibello alone, inside this body that they'd shared for so long.
I never thought about it at the time, Ewan answered his companion, because I was a kid and they were my parents. So of course they lived together; I took that for granted! But, yeah. She must have loved Papa an awful lot, at least when she married him, to get her to live anywhere else but on Narsai.
How come you can't talk to her mind to mind? Like a real Mistworlder would, and like the husband she's got now does? Sanibello had been wondering that, in the part of his consciousness that Fralick didn't share, ever since they'd arrived here.
Same reason I wouldn't have been able to talk to you that way, before we got paired for this voyage. Ewan sounded amused, not at all surprised, and--to Ishi's astonishment--more than a trifle frustrated, too. I need a native to carry me whenever I want to communicate by mind-talk. Just like Narsai needs that new interplanetary comm booster, before it can punch real-time transmissions through to other planets again.
Oh. Sanibello, like most of Mistworld's Human colonists, was a farmer. Not a star sailor, by training or even by inclination. So whenever his body commanded the ship that had brought him here, and that would take him home again, he "stepped aside" and gave Fralick full control. At first doing so had frightened him--but not half as much as thinking he must command that starship by himself would have, of course!
Ewan Fralick knew how. Clothed once again in a mortal body, he'd thrilled at the chance. And had he not been there, six months ago when the Mistworld-led Rebel fleet swept into Narsatian space and found itself facing a Star Service heavy cruiser determined to engage them in battle--with that cruiser's captain not a bit interested in pausing to ascertain the newcomers' actual intentions--Ishi Sanibello didn't doubt that the untried Rebels would have been obliterated, in spite of their technically superior numbers.
Instead the brief conflict ended with the Commonwealth vessel blown apart, and with minimal damage done to Narsai's orbiting infrastructure of habitats, communications satellites, and solar power collectors. It had cost the Rebel fleet six of its fifteen oddly assorted vessels, though ... which didn't prevent Ewan Fralick from grieving for the civilian deaths he learned about later. As well as for everyone he'd known aboard those destroyed ships, because people who died while away from Mistworld were gone forever.
If our ship had been one of them, Ewan, neither of us would be anything right now except dead. Sanibello joined his hosting-partner in acknowledging that brutal fact, as they both looked at a comm screen in Catherine Romanova's living room. As a direct feed from Narsai Control showed them not one Star Service warship, but an entire battle group--everything from tiny raiders up to a trio of heavy cruisers and a dreadnought--approaching Narsai's star system, silently, from out of deep space.